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Himalaya

Day 69: North from Lhasa

Lhasa, Tibet 
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Entering the Potala Palace by the back door. As with most Tibetan buildings it is well-whitewashed, though the decorators of the Dali Lama's old home seem to have a scatter-gun approach.
Michael Palin - HimalayaWe check out of the Himalaya Hotel this morning. Last images: porters wrapped in greatcoats and looking as if they were in their third month at Stalingrad, cleaners moving three-foot-wide brushes soundlessly across a spotless marble floor, a girl at reception smiling as if it were Christmas as the doors swing shut behind us. Fond farewells to John P, released from the People's Hospital and due to fly out to Kunming, Hong Kong and London later today.

The drivers are late. Most of them stayed on at JJ's until the small hours. Migmar stamps his feet against the cold.

'Tibetan people never tired,' he reassures us.

North of Lhasa, the trans-Tibetan Highway 109 runs alongside extensive railway construction. A billboard not far from the road depicts a speeding, white, high-speed train, the Potala Palace and a joyful group of ethnic minorities dancing and celebrating. Below runs the slogan, 'The Tibet-Qinghai railway benefits all the peoples of China'. It's a little disingenuous, as 91 per cent of the peoples of China are from the same ethnic group, the Han. But the fact remains that the railway is likely to change Tibet as much as anything in its history.

By 2008, the year of the Beijing Olympics, a 700-mile (1120 km) high-speed line across the Tibetan plateau will connect Lhasa, for the first time ever, to the Chinese rail network. It's a fair bet that farmers and nomads, who make up 80 per cent of the indigenous people of the TAR, will find this less useful than the millions living in overcrowded conditions in the heart of China, for whom it will offer the chance of a new life, out west.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Himalaya
  • Chapter: Day 69: North from Lhasa
  • Country/sea: Tibet
  • Place: Lhasa
  • Book page no: 165

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